According to the Associated Press, Hawaii is the closest it has ever been to legalizing civil unions. Just over 10 years ago, Hawaii was the first state to adopt the nation’s first “defense of marriage” constitutional amendment, which granted the state legislature the power to reserve marriage for opposite-sex couples. This amendment, however, leaves open the possibility of civil unions for gay couples. Earlier this month, the state House of Representatives passed the civil union bill, which now awaits approval by the state Senate and possible veto by Republican Governor Linda Lingle. If passed, Hawaii will be the fifth state to legalize civil unions, and the only state in the western United States to do so.
This situation in Hawaii is exemplary of a conversation on civil unions that is being held across America. The issue is reaching a breaking point for many, which speaks to the need for some kind of short-term compromise to avoid long-term disaster. This weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed piece written by two men who have very different views on same-sex marriage but are in agreement on a possible solution. They propose that Congress grant federal civil unions, which would give same-sex couples all or most of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. In compromise, however, the government would recognize the civil unions only in states which provide religious-conscience exceptions, allowing religious organizations the right to not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The compromise might not be ideal for all, but it at least speaks to the possibility of compromise and provides us with some ideas for the future of same-sex marriage in the United States.